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    Charmed – Collecting Charms Around the World

    The World Traveling Charm Bracelet

    Location: USA

    Palm Tree Charm

    Palm Tree Dominican Republic

    I’ve had a lot of people asking about my world traveling charm bracelet lately because it’s been a long time since I have mentioned anything about it on my blog or social media.  So I thought today I would share a bit about this fascinating and growing collection of beauty, history and culture that I wear around my wrist.

    Kayak Charm

    Kayak Belize

    For those of you who may not know, I had the idea, just weeks before we headed out on the Grand Adventure for the first time in June 2016, to begin a travel charm bracelet.  I purchased a bracelet here in the USA and added my very first charm, an “L” for my first and last name (Laureen Lund).  Then we began our travels with our first stop in Hawaii where I added a silver sea turtle.

    Three years and dozens and dozens of countries and charms later, my charming souvenir is very precious to me with 56 charms.

    Collecting Charms Around the World

    Christ the Redeemer Brazil

    My preference is to buy a charm while in the country, but in Central America I really struggled to find any charms for sale anywhere.  I had purchased a Christ the Redeemer charm in Brazil and a lizard charm in Costa Rica and then after that the trail went cold.

    I was never able to find a charm in Panama, El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala or Dominican Republic.

    So, before we returned to the USA I contacted my jeweler here in Gig

    El Salvador Charm

    Yoga symbol El Salvador

    Harbor and ordered charms that for me represented those countries I had visited. I had him add the charms to my bracelet after I arrived in the USA. Also, just like last summer, he took all the new charms from my past year of travel and soldered each to the bracelet so I won’t lose any.

    Collecting Charms Around the World

    Lizard Costa Rica

    I love this piece of jewelry that has so much meaning for me. In fact I love it so much I’ve decided to leave it here when we depart again in September.  I know I would be devastated if it were lost or stolen, so on round three of the Grand Adventure I will leave it behind, collecting the charms and adding them to the bracelet when I return.

    If you struggle to think of memorable, small and meaningful souvenirs to buy when you travel, consider collecting charms around the world.  I’m so glad a did.  It’s so charming.

    Thanks for your interest.  I hope to share the bracelet in person with some of you in the future.

     

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    I took advantage of Amazon’s free book download a couple of months ago, in celebration of International Book Day.  As they did last year, Amazon offered up several books by international authors for free.  I downloaded about a dozen books, and The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia was the first one I read.

    You might think a free book would be bad.  Not.

    I really loved this book and this story by Mexican author Segovia.

    Segovia brings the reader to pre-revolution Mexico, where landowners and tenant farmers, corrupt politicians and revolutionaries are walking a fine line of survival and power in early 1900’s.

    The Morales family is a hard-working and upstanding family with generations of land ownership being handed down from father to son.  But their lives will be forever changed when anciently old Nana Reja discovers a newborn baby…a child with mysterious ways and the power to change everyone’s lives forever.

    Segovia’s talent for story telling and use of some third person chapters and some first person chapters creates a lovely rhythm to the book and you will find yourself lulled into the characters and their lives and in particular the peculiar and fascinating child named Simonopia.

    Like the swirling bees that follow Simonopia everywhere he goes, this book buzzes with the frenzy of the developing plot, believable characters, stunning narrative describing the rich and beautiful scenery and most of all the love and sacrifice of family.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Five stars for The Murmur of Bees by Sophia Segovia.

    Read last week’s review of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

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    North America Travel

    What to do in Scottsdale Arizona

    My Fab Favorite Things

    Location: Scottsdale Arizona

    I just visited Scottsdale Arizona for the third time.  I really love this little town because it has so much to offer; great weather, spectacular scenery, interesting history, great outdoor activities and delicious restaurants.  In fact Scottsdale seems to have the highest concentration of dining options of just about anywhere I have every been…all of them delicious.

    During my various visits to Scottsdale area I have created a short list of my favorite things to do while in Scottsdale Arizona.  This list is certainly not complete, because the wide variety of activities ranges from  visits to the Grand Canyon to Food Tours on a Segway, from gambling all night long to lounging by the pool all day.  I myself am not a golfer, but certainly golf is one of the biggest things that draw visitors to this area.  Scottsdale definitely has something for everyone.

    As you plan your visit to the beautiful Scottsdale Arizona area, perhaps this list of what to do in Scottsdale Arizona – my fab favorite things, will be of use. I hope it is.

    Accommodations

    Vacation Rental Kierland Commons

    A wide range of accommodations are available in the area from camping in beautiful state and national parks to budget hotels, high-end resorts and gorgeous yet affordable vacation rentals.

    Food

    You will never go hungry in Scottsdale.  Oh my goodness no.  I could go on and on with the recommendations, but I’ll just list my current favorites; Bowl of GreensOlive & Ivy, Roaring Fork, Postino, Hula Tiki Bar, Snooze, The Mission, The Breakfast Club, Blanco, La Bocca, and Los Olivos 

    Shopping

    Postino

    I’m not actually a big shopper, but while in Scottsdale this past weekend I took advantage of the great shopping to begin to rebuild my travel wardrobe for the continuation of the Grand Adventure.  I spent a couple of hours at the Scottsdale Fashion Square and picked up a couple of things at the Kierland Commons.  Additional options for shopping in the area include Old Town Scottsdale, The Promenade and Scottsdale Quarter.

    The Desert Botanical Gardens

    One thing I can always shop for is plants and garden related items and my visit to the stunning Desert Botanical Gardens gave me so much inspiration for bringing a wee bit of the Southwest into my Pacific Northwest Garden. I spent about two and half hours here one morning by myself enjoying the gorgeous gardens and the interesting interpretive signage about local flora & fauna as well as indigenous people. During my visit I walked more than three miles around the stunning gardens.  Entry fee is $25 and worth every penny.

    Taliesin West

    Taliesin West is a National Historic Landmark nestled in the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, AZ.  It is also the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin.

    Wright’s beloved winter home and the bustling headquarters of the Taliesin Fellowship, was established in 1937 and diligently handcrafted over many years into a world unto itself. Deeply connected to the desert from which it belongs.

    Desert Botanical Gardens

    Tickets are $25 and reservations are highly recommended.  One of my favorite tours in all of the USA. Don’t miss it.  Learn more at Taliesin West.

    Hiking

    Climbing the dry and difficult trail to the top of Camelback Mountain is one of my favorite things to do in Scottsdale Arizona…but it’s not for everyone.  You need to be in good physical condition and carry lots of water, but the effort is worth it.  Pinnacle Peak is another great climb in the area or take a day trip (on your own or with a tour) to the Sonoran Desert for a spectacular hike where you can enjoy the desert scenery to the maximum.

     

    Nightlife

    Handlebar Js

    Everything you can think of is available for nightlight in Scottsdale from casinos and concerts to comedy and festivals.  Cowboy bars, upscale nightclubs, roof top bars and Bodegas are available all around Scottsdale. You can also find a variety of improv clubs, piano bars and dance clubs. Talking Stick is a popular casino with a famous rooftop bar.

    With my high school friends last weekend in Scottsdale

    Or go more “Arizona Country” at the famous Rusty Spur or Handlbar J’s.  For something that will really tickle your funny bone, check out The House of Comedy.

    These are just a handful of suggestions of what to do in Scottsdale Arizona –  the always interesting Southwest USA town.  Not as crazy as Las Vegas, and not as expensive either…Scottsdale offers a wonderful get-away with a warm and inviting climate most of the year.

    Don’t forget your swimsuit!

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane: A Novel by Lisa See

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Although I enjoyed this story, I expected a bit more, given how long I was on the wait list to get this book from the library.

    It’s good.  Just not great.  The best part for me was learning about a particular minority ethnic group in China I was not familiar with.

    The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane: A Novel by Lisa See is a compelling story of the remote Akha mountain people of China.  The Akha in 1988 when the story begins, are still a very superstitious and traditional people, living a poor existence in their remote region with little food, power or plumbing.  Their traditions and tea farming life go back thousands of years and have changed little over the centuries.

    But slowly the modern world approaches and the long-established customs of these people are challenged in every way possible.  The book follows the life of Li-yan, a girl from a family of tea farmers.  It is her generation that will be directly affected by the challenges to the conventional and somewhat ignorant way of life, and the encroachment of the modern world.

    Li-yan faces scandal and gives up a baby girl, then leaves the village to go to college and eventually becomes a highly successful tea broker.  Back in the village life is changing dramatically as the cultivation of the now highly prized Pu’er tea is making all the village extremely wealthy.

    But Li-yan never forgets the daughter she abandoned and wonders about her always.

    It’s not too hard to come up with how this will end, and a few too many coincidences bring it all together in the end.

    But the book is interesting for the education I received about the very lucrative world of tea, the fascinating culture of the Akha, and the heart-tugging topic of the one-child society of China.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane: A Novel, by Lisa See

    Read last week’s review of The Altruist.

    North America Travel

    Charleston South Carolina – Southern Charm and Hospitality

    Location: Charleston South Carolina

    We were so lucky to spend a few lovely days visiting friends in Charleston South Carolina.  It’s a bonus when friends live in cities worth visiting and Charleston is definitely one of those.  Charleston South Carolina oozes southern charm and hospitality – you just want to eat it up.

    We had visited Charleston years ago, in fact about 27 years ago.  Boy time does fly.  And although the surrounding areas of Charleston proper including the town of Mount Pleasant where we were staying, have grown exponentially, historic Charleston has stayed much the same.

    The oldest town in the American south, Charleston dates to 1718 and is named for King Charles II of England.  Originally located north and founded in 1680 (location now known as Charles Town Landing), the town moved south to the strategic location where the confluence of the Wando and the Ashleigh Rivers meet Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.

    The city today (population of the greater Charleston area about 775,000) is well-known for its beauty, colonial history, hospitality, exceptional restaurants, and surrounding recreational opportunities.

    We spent our short time in the area enjoying the company of our friends, and several sites around the region.  We did not go out to Fort Sumter, because we did that long ago.  Instead we walked more than eight miles all over historic Charleston.  Although the horse-drawn carriages are fun, Charleston is a pedestrian friendly town.  It’s perfect for walking; flat, safe and beautiful.  On our walk we enjoyed the magnificent historic churches (Charleston is nicknamed the Holy City because it has so many church spires) and cemeteries. The colonial historic homes are enchanting, each so perfectly coiffed and dressed as if going to a ball.  The week we were visiting was the peak of the jasmine bloom – literally millions of jasmine blossoms on nearly every beautiful home, perfumed the air for miles around.  We visited Battery Park where the herons were nesting in the giant oak trees overlooking Charleston Harbor.  Of course we stopped for photos at Rainbow Row, the original commercial district and now the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the USA.  Our walk took us to The Pink House, the oldest stone building in Charleston dated 1674.

    I really enjoyed the Historic Charleston Market, stretching for four blocks it has been a market of one sort or another since 1790 and operates in the beautiful and historic market hall.  Today the market is almost all arts and crafts, showcasing the region’s blend of Southern US, English, French and West African cultures.  My favorite was the spectacular handmade reed baskets known as Sweetgrass Baskets.  Made still today in the traditional manner by the descendants of West Africans, the baskets are works of art and sell for hundreds of dollars.

    Shem Creek Park north of historic Charleston, has a lovely park and nature preserve made for walking and enjoying the birds and beauty of the area.  This is also where you can see all the shrimp boats and pick up some fresh shrimp for dinner, which we did! Another beautiful walk is out the former bridge to Sullivan’s Island.  When the new bridge opened the old bridge found new purpose as a wonderful pedestrian park across the estuary and perfect for kayak launching, bird watching, fishing and picnicking.

    Boone Hall Plantation is definitely worth a visit even with the $25 entrance fee.  Boone Hall has been a working plantation for more than 350 years.  Although the current main house is not original (dates to 1936), it is beautiful and keeps to the authentic time period.  The row of brick slave cabins were really interesting, with each one focusing on interpretive information about the slave life.  Local docents offer short talks about the plantation and slavery, and a half an hour storytelling and singing presentation by a local Gullah woman was first-rate.  I am so glad we visited beautiful Boone Hall.

    I could write another entire blog about the delicious food of this region…but I’ll just end the post today with a shout out to pimento cheese and  pork rinds, cheeseburger with fried green tomato, BBQ Brisket and coleslaw, scallops with pesto and mushrooms and fresh-off-the-boat shrimp. It’s a delicious city, one of its many, many charms.

    Charleston South Carolina, a perfect little package of southern charm tied pretty with a hospitality bow.  Visit soon.

     

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Altruist: A Novel by Andrew Ridker

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    An engaging story of family and dysfunction with some lovely writing that includes occasional brilliant descriptive prose that took me by surprise and made me admire this writer.

    The story, Ridker’s debut novel, spans several continents and decades as it wanders through the life of Francine, her husband Arthur and their children Ethan and Maggie.

    Francine passes away of cancer and after her death the family learns that she has amassed a fortune in stock that even her husband knew nothing about.  But in her will she gives it to her children and leaves nothing for her Professor husband who has never gained tenure and has lived his entire life regretting choices he made in his youth.

    Ethan, gay and insecure, and Maggie, angry and dealing with an eating disorder, have zero relationship with their father following the funeral and thus the story unfolds as the author takes you through the inner thinkings, struggles and personalities as well as the mistakes and choices that have brought this family to where it is in this story; on the brink of disaster.

    I enjoyed this book very much.  I found this family sad, believable, pathetic, and endearing.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for The Altruist: A Novel by Andrew Ridker

    Read last week’s review of The Children of Blood and Bone.

    Central America

    Seven Things to do in Punta Cana Dominican Republic

    On a Budget

    Location: Punta Cana Dominican Republic

    We spent twelve days relaxing and mostly lounging around our Airbnb pool in Punta Cana Dominican Republic.  Many days we never left the apartment…enjoying the sun, reading and just kicking back. That was really what we wanted to do.

    We were staying in the wonderful residential community of Puntacana Village, a gated, friendly and

    Playa Blanca

    beautiful neighborhood.  We loved the neighborhood for running (nice and flat and beautiful) and for the easy walk to restaurants and shopping.  We didn’t need much more than that.  But during our visit we also discovered some fun businesses to patronize and places see in the general area, both with and without a car.

    So if you are thinking about visiting Punta Cana, and are considering the less expensive option of not staying in a beachfront resort, we can recommend Puntacana Village and the following;

    1. Puntacana Village Shuttle – we used this shuttle several times from the Four Point Hotel at Puntacana Village.  The shuttle goes into to the beachfront gated resort area with several stops including the Westin Resort and Playa Blanca.  It’s free and runs every 30 minutes.
    2. Playa Blanca – using the shuttle to arrive at this beachfront restaurant and bar is the perfect start

      Altos de Chavon

      to a great day at the beach.  Playa Blanca has lounge chairs available for guests.  Just order a drink or two, maybe lunch, and the lounge chairs are free.  We enjoyed this beach three times and recommend it over the higher priced Westin.

    3. Altos de Chavon – renting a car one day we drove the hour and a half to the La Ramana region and Altos de Chavon. Altos de Chavón is a re-creation of a Mediterranean style European village located atop the Chavón River in La Romana, Dominican Republic. It is the most popular attraction in the city and hosts a cultural center, an archeological museum, and an amphitheater.  It was really beautiful and we enjoyed just walking around and having lunch.
    4. La Yola Restaurant – hands down the best meal we had in the DR and actually in all of the time we were in Central America and the Caribbean.  La Yola situated right on the water was superb in

      La Yola

      every way – beautiful waterside setting in a spectacularly designed open-air beach-themed building.  The service was impeccable.  The roving quartet a nice touch. The prices were reasonable.  But the best part – the delicious, locally sourced and freshly prepared food.  My red snapper was the best I have ever had.

    5. La Casita de Yeya Restaurant – not fancy but oh so delicious, this locally owned restaurant in Punta Cana Village gave us the opportunity to taste several authentic Caribbean/Dominican Republic dishes including Mofo, pork, stew and plantains.

      La Casita de Yeya

    6. Nadia’s Bike Tour/ Garota Tours – we met Nadia in the village and spent two hours riding around on bikes she provided us for our tour.  She showed us all over Punta Cana, giving us a peek into places, and resorts and neighborhoods we would not have even known were there.  We enjoyed this activity very much.
    7. Ananda Yoga – During our visit I took yoga classes on four morning at Ananada Yoga studio, right in Punta Cana Village.  The classes were excellent andprofessionally led by a bi-lingual instructor.  The tiny and very personal studio requires advance reservations.

    We enjoyed the small part of the Dominican Republic we were able to see.  I hope we can return again when we can travel farther afield on the island nation and enjoy a bit more diverse and authentic

    Our bike tour with Nadia

    Dominican Republic.

    Muchos Gracias!

     

     

     

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